Huckabee & Post Conservatism

by Jonah Goldberg

From a longtime reader:

Jonah,

I am your most devoted evangelical fan.  I hope that a sea-change in the political climate does not drive us apart.  But Mike Huckabee may be the herald of something new in politics – post-conservatism – and it may be a good thing.

I think that you and the other thinkers at NRO sense this possibility and that is why you are so viscerally opposed to him.

We conservatives are, at heart, anti-soviets.  After the Soviet Union disintegrated we floundered for awhile but found a new center in anti-jihadism.  But this new heart of conservatism is insufficient to support all of the organs (I think that there are too many metaphors in this paragraph).  We are capitalists because the soviets were socialists.  We are libertarians because the soviets with authoritarians.  We are pro-religion because the communists hated religion.  We are hostile to labor unions because the soviets used them.  We are for punishment for crime because the Soviets treated all crime as disease.

We are also pro-american, but I think that is the cause and not the result of our anti-sovietism.

Huckabee is at the forefront of a new type of politics.  I think that you are right when you say that he shows some similarity to the European “Christian” parties.  Basic morality is the axis of his beliefs.  That morality is exemplified to him by the Christian Bible, but most intelligent people recognize that it is a universal and not a specifically Christian morality.

I would call this post-conservatism.  Its suspicions of big-government are weakened but its adherence to traditional morality is strengthened.  It is more hostile to corporate greed and less favorable to “free-speech” excesses.  It is more willing to spend money on environmental tech and less willing to spend money on NASA.

Both conservatism (in this case – true paleo conservatism) and post-conservatism will share many ideas.  Pro-americanism, pro-religion, pro-life, anti-relativism.

This new center axis of morality is subject to excess.  Huckabee’s support for the parole of Dumond was clearly one of those.  But anti-soviet, pro-big business conservatism was also subject to excess – like the Chrysler bailout. 

Possibly the greatest danger for post-conservatism would be the danger of immanitizing the eschaton.  This is a serious risk and Huckabee should be asked to give an answer for it.  Does a politician informed by his Christianity take a chance of trying to build the Kingdom of Heaven “in earth as it is in heaven”?  This would be a violation of the 2nd commandment.  “Thou shalt not make unto any graven image.’  The image of the Body of Christ is not realizable in this life.

If the country does divide into two camps: the God haters and the post-conservatives, then secular Jews and religious libertarians are going to be sidelined to some extent.  You and the other thinkers at NRO must fear this greatly. 

Is this an accurate analysis?  Is this the reason for you all’s hostility to Huckabee?

Me: Well, let’s clear away some brush. First, it’s true that this reader has been a big and supportive fan for a long time. Second, though I don’t  speak for anybody else, I don’t think that “fear” is the primary motivator for my antipathy — or most conservatives — toward Huckabee. Indeed, the idea that NRO et al are anti-Huckabee for fear of being sidelined by history gives Huckabee a lot more credit as a threat and political force than he deserves. Third,  while no one disputes that anti-Communism was a big part of the modern conservative story, this reader actually manages to overstate the issue by a wide margin, which I hadn’t really thought possible.  Also, we should acknowledge that this reader is speaking solely for himself and maybe a few people he knows and that there are plenty of Huckabee supporters who would state the case very differently.

And with that — and a few other caveats I might offer but won’t here — let me say, basically: Yeah.

I think what Huckabee represents — as I wrote here –  is compassionate conservatism on steroids. I don’t know that I’d call it post-conservatism so much as paleo-progressivism (a term that pops up in my book). If carried to its logical conclusion Huckabeeism is rightwing progressivism. If I have to choose between leftwing progressivism and rightwing progressivism, I’d probably choose rightwing progressivism on most issues and leftwing progressivism on a few issues. But I don’t want to have to make that choice. I don’t think I will have to either. 

But more importantly, it needs to be said that progressivism from the right is nearly as flawed and bound to fail as progressivism from the left (I say “nearly” because I think the Right’s understanding of the fallen nature of man is more realistic). The left believes government can love you. Now, Huckabee and (some of) his supporters believe that too. If he is successful — which I doubt very much — in taking over the GOP, both Republicans and Democrats will craft policies grounded in the  desire to translate their “love” for people they don’t know into public policy. And both sides, as well as many innocent bystanders,  will feel the baton of unintended consequences in their teeth. Of course, there would be some political successes which would be construed as “transformative” events. But, in the process great violence would be done to the principle of limited government and liberty and — I hope — conservatives would be  on the sidelines, once again, standing athwart history  yelling “Stop” to anyone who might have ears to hear. 

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